There was great anticipation for the return of spectators to the 2021 edition of the Estrella Damm N.A. Andalucía Masters, after COVID restrictions had prevented their presence the previous year.

And the jewel of Sotogrande did not disappoint: spectators returned eagerly to the club, which was presented in all its splendour and once again dazzled us with the kind of sublime golfing experience we have become accustomed to at Valderrama.  

Ryder Cup player Matt Fitzpatrick of England was a brilliant winner, while world number one Jon Rahm’s participation attracted a huge crowd. Unfortunately, he missed the cut so we were denied the exciting opportunity of seeing if he could win for the first time at Valderrama. But golf is like that, and the ways of destiny are inscrutable…

In spite of this small (or perhaps large) jug of cold water being poured over our expectations for Rahm, club general manager Javier Reviriego reported that the tournament, played in mid-October, had achieved a hugely positive balance overall.

"First," he says, "because we have finally been able to have a tournament played under normal conditions, with a large number of spectators who could enjoy Valderrama and the players. Second, because I believe this has probably been the year that we have presented the course in its best condition. We always have things to improve and we always question whether we can present it better, but this year we are actually happy with the image we have presented.

“Our main objective was to provide fast and firm greens. We decided to lower the cutting height of the rough and give players the opportunity to risk shots to the green. I think we managed to allow them to have some fun, even though the scores were high.”

“On the other hand, we are also very happy with the attendance figures, especially considering that Rahm was not there for the weekend. The dimension and potency of Jon Rahm’s appeal is tremendous. I can tell you that the pre-sale of tickets this year has been 10 times higher than usual. Our expectations, therefore, were very high and we are satisfied to have exceeded 36,000 spectators during the week. 

“I also think it is important to emphasise that we do not measure the event’s success by the public attendance. We love it that the course is seen to be full, but the image of the course during the tournament’s broadcast and the level of TV audiences are both very important variables which allow us to assess the tournament as a whole.

"As for the winner of the tournament,” adds Reviriego, "Matt Fitzpatrick was, after Rahm, the best-placed player in the world ranking. He is a great player, young, a member of Europe’s Ryder Cup team, and surely he will win many tournaments in his career. He is a top-quality player and we are honoured to have him on our winners’ panel. 

"The media impact, especially on television, has been outstanding. I have no doubt that, for Andalucía, the fact that four fantastic days of sunshine have been viewed at a course like Valderrama helps to sell the destination and attract golfers from all over the world."

“It is difficult to assess, but I am sure that during this week many people made the decision not only to play at Valderrama but also to visit Andalucía."

In a pure golfing context, how did you see the tournament?

I think it was a great show. The field was tough but very fair; we have made a great effort in recent years to improve its presentation and playability. On TV you can see the great work done with the pruning of oak trees, the fairways have been opened up, and shots from the tee are easier to draw. In that sense, I think it has been a success for Valderrama.

For me the only pity is that Jon was not there for the weekend, because many people expected to see the number one in the world in action. These are things that happen in golf and cannot be controlled. It is part of this sport and you have to accept it. We are super grateful to Jon for coming to play. I know he made a great effort to play well, but hey... he was very tired from a very intense season and it must be respected that he did not have his week.

No buts at all in relation to Jon. On the contrary, he was charming with everyone. For me almost the best part of the week was seeing how he responded to children, with people who asked for autographs. Spectacular... After missing the cut on Friday, he spent about an hour and a half signing autographs. I don't know if there are many players who would do this. It seems remarkable to me. I'm sure the next time he will play better, and he will be keen to redeem himself.

Was he sad about what happened, missing the cut, or did he just consider it a hazard of the job?

He was sad because he really wanted to please people here and he wanted to play well… but I also think it will motivate him to come back and win.

Apart from Jon Rahm's stumble, Javier Reviriego said he liked how the course “behaved”...

“Everyone knows that we don’t like them winning at Valderrama with a score of 15 or 20-under. Six-under was the winning score, and that seems like a good result to me. The course was up to the task, and from what I was told by the players this year they really enjoyed the layout. Valderrama is a significantly different course to those normally played on the European Tour – nothing like the others at all.”

They’re not used to a course like this...

No. Golf, it has been said many times, has become a big-hitter's game. You hit your drive as hard as possible, the rough is not usually very high in those tournaments, and then you see who sinks more putts. Valderrama is the opposite. Every hole here is really a par-3 off the tee. You have to place the ball in the right place. It's like playing 36 par-3s; you have to be very aware and well-focused on all 18 holes.

You have to know how to play shots with different effects, you have to have a good short game, and of course you have to putt well. A good strategy is an essential part of being successful here. It could be said that, at Valderrama, being a big-hitter does not give you a significant advantage.

For the immediate future, you are looking to host a tournament co-sanctioned by the European Tour and US PGA Tour...

We are looking to ensure this tournament grows. Whether it is called the Rolex Series or something else, well, that’s not relevant to us. What we are clear about is that both we and our sponsors want the tournament to progress.

We are talking to the European Tour to reach an agreement for the tournament to evolve. Now a new situation has opened up in world golf because the PGA Tour and European Tour have become partners and there are probably going to be major changes to the calendar. In fact, they have already been announced for 2022, but there will be more profound changes in 2023 and 2024. 

Our goal is to be among the top tournaments on that new tour or whatever new structure is established. We are working towards that end with very clear objectives, and continuing to count on Estrella Damm, Andalucñia and all our collaborators.

Are you considering new dates?

For 2022, we will keep the same week of October. Looking ahead to 2023, we are still looking at the different options. My opinion is that the date is determined by the players' calendar. The success of the tournament depends largely on the roster of players participating, not so much on the date. If Jon, Sergio and players of Fitzpatrick's profile can play, the date is good.

What shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that the business of professional golf has become extremely competitive. The top players have more tournaments than ever and most of them with multi-million-dollar prizes. This makes it increasingly difficult to attract stars; there are dozens of promoters and sponsors competing to bring together the top players at their event.

I believe that the future of professional golf will depend a lot on the agreement reached between the PGA Tour and European Tour. There has to be a balance to avoid certain tournaments having very poor fields of players. Spectators want to see stars, sponsors want to see stars... all efforts should be aimed at discouraging smaller sponsors from deciding to invest in other sports, due to the low impact and profile of their tournaments. This could happen and it is certainly a great threat to the European Tour.

Having said that, this year the tournament has distributed more points for the world ranking than ever before. This is very positive data... I think we had, apart from number one, if I remember correctly, 18 of the top 100 players in the world, and four or five of the top 50 – which, given the situation of the European Tour, is a quite acceptable field.